Israel and Palestine.
Ever old, always new, energizing, complicated, diverse. They lead to great conversations. And even better experiences. More than ever, they inspire me and fill me with hope. I invite you to share my journey in the following post.
For readers thinking, “That’s a long trip, Steve. Better just give me the highlights,” I get it. I deal in bottom lines for a living. For you, I’ll start with a summary. Here’s what I did in 25 action-packed days:
- Attended an insightful workshop taught by the Harvard Negotiating Program
- Heard a significant diplomat describe four pivotal 1979 events that shaped the current Middle East
- Spent four thought-provoking days, immersed with 32 other American Jews, listening to stories from Palestinians living in Jerusalem and the West Bank
- Taught a group of seven people (three Palestinians, three Israeli, one Palestinian-Israeli) how to improve team health and the tools needed to operate their organizations
- Toured with Rabbi Rob Kahn, listening to great stories and learning a lot. Traveling with Sheri, Mark, Shirley, Kirk, and Donna, my days were full of camaraderie and gratitude
- Enjoyed 25 days of sunshine! Ate well. Wonderful food!
- Conducted a little financial planning business
- Consoluted—created an environment of constructive conflict resolution
The Harvard Negotiation Program Workshop
Younger leaders from the Middle East and international diplomats learned HOW to negotiate in this workshop based on three books: 3D Negotiation; Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate; and the international bestseller, Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In. I initially cringed at this last title. It seemed to be better marketing copy than actual advice. When I decided not to judge that idea by the cover and started reading it, I was inspired. Neither the book nor the teachers gave the impression that negotiating is about not giving in. The professors were enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and articulate. (I think I only fell asleep once in 2 days.) Hope what I learned helps you:
- If you want to go fast, go by yourself; if you want to go far, go with others.
- Preparation for negotiation is time-consuming but crucial. You’re strongly advised to do the following:
- Read bios of the negotiators
- Get advice from others who’ve negotiated with the involved parties
- Investigate polls on a subject if you’re negotiating a public issue
- Determine if other issues affect those you’ll be negotiating with
- Make sure the facts are known
- Expect odd facts
- Be direct and clear
- Think strategically, act opportunistically (I’ll be reviewing this to determine how it applies. If you already know, please write to me.)
- Write the victory speech for the other side
- Don’t needlessly escalate
- No gloating
- Help the other side with the story
- Don’t put a stumbling block before the blind—a topic for another day.
My Dinner with a Significant Diplomat in the Middle East
I was fortunate to join a group of 20 having dinner with this Diplomat. (Please respect my need to conceal his identity.) My takeaway message is a blend of what he said, and what I read between the lines:
Fanaticism is the real enemy and stumbling block to the pursuit of consolution (yes, I’m hoping this word replaces “peace.”) As such, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is not the most important world conflict to resolve today. The most immediate threat in this region is the split in ideology within the Islamic world. Divisions here are so deep that greater conflict could ignite at any moment.
The Diplomat’s historical starting point for this threat was 1979 when four pivotal events occurred:
- Iran revolted and converted to an Islamic State
- Russia invaded Afghanistan
- Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty
- The siege in Mecca gave birth to Al-Qaeda
These events have had a lasting impact on the Middle East and deserve greater study.
You know a trip is good when you want to get homework.
The Diplomat and his staff were very pleasant and genuine. I realized diplomats and academics do like to talk! Then again, they each have something to say. As a person who gets lost in long stories, it’s great when they start with the bottom line first, stories, second. Thank you, Mr. Diplomat, for speaking my language.
My Close Encounter with Encounter Programs
Encounter is a nonpartisan educational organization dedicated to informing Jewish leadership about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They enable deeply committed Jewish influencers to encounter first-hand the people, perspectives, and challenges at the heart of the conflict. Their programs inspire new perspectives, new conversations, and new approaches. They’re building a diverse Jewish leadership network across religious and political lines.
My intensive four-day experience listening to Palestinian narratives was both important and a little troubling. Here are the highlights:
Sami Awad, Executive Director of Holy Land Trust
Sami’s message has been consistent for the past decade:
The Israeli occupation needs to end, AND the Palestinians need to get their act together, so they’re ready to live with freedom and democracy.
He continues to work on both fronts. Yes, he’s controversial, and if I didn’t believe in a two-state solution, he would frustrate me. However, I admire him and his organization and think it’s time I sent another check.
Sami is a realist who understands that not everyone is attracted to a cause for what it promotes. He’s taught me to be a bit more skeptical (not cynical) and dig deeper to determine motivations.
Women Lead the Way
In at least three of my visits during the four days, women were leading the charge. They gave me and everyone who witnessed their stories, hope. Bottom Line for men: either get out of the way or start thinking and behaving like a Consolutionist (a person dedicated to the constructive resolution of conflict). The women are already there.
Perspectives from my Study Partner
A personal high point for me was interpreting a quote by my study partner on the trip: “You cannot teach nuance to lived trauma.” I’m defining nuance as the skill to see shades of gray and not
just black and white. The following are some of the behaviors that can result when a person and/or community is experiencing lived trauma:
- Feeling helpless/passive
- Irritable/difficult to soothe
- Developmental regression
- General fearfulness/new fears
- Aggressive behavior
- Inattention, difficulty problem solving
Both Israelis and Palestinians are living in trauma. In my opinion, it’s creating the following behaviors:
- Because the Israeli leadership (and thus much of the community) are so irritated with the Palestinians, they’re creating administrative mazes that make it difficult for the Palestinians to get anything done. They’re doing this instead of using maximum force. This strategy is maintaining a current quiet but is building an environment of continued trauma for the Palestinians. While I can’t predict the outcome, I know it won’t be good.
- Because the Palestinian leadership (and thus much of the community) feel helpless against neighbors inattentive to their situation, their behavior becomes aggressive, and I believe they have difficulty problem-solving. Without effective problem-solving, the Palestinian leadership contributes greatly to the trauma of the Palestinian people. This aggressive Palestinian behavior is not acceptable to the Israeli, so they also respond with aggressive behavior.
When people live in trauma, they are physically and psychologically in “survivor mode,” an automatic response to life-threatening events. For millions residing in conflict zones, this threat of danger never subsides, creating a constant state of emergency. As the brain remains primed for rapid response, it’s capacity for careful deliberation—for nuance—is impaired.1 Traumatized people tend to want and accept leadership that tells them what to think and do. It’s a great situation for an authoritarian leader and a system with few checks and balances. IT’S NOT GREAT FOR THE PEOPLE.
Yes, I wish to be considered an equal opportunity disruptor! Israeli and Palestinian leadership: pick a date, get back to the negotiation table, and work to help your people stop living trauma.
The Problem with Narratives
The region uses narratives that, in my opinion, are no longer helpful in advancing Consolutionism. People here determine their outlook based on a historical starting point; but which one is correct? It could be any of the following:
- 2002-2005 and the Second Intifada
- 1993 and the Oslo Accords
- 1987-1991 the First Intifada
- 1979-the year that changed the region
- 1973 Arab-Israeli War
- 1967 Arab-Israeli War
- 1947-1949 referred to as the Independence War and the Nakba
- 1939-1945 the Holocaust
- 1929 Arab riots against the Jews of Palestine
- 1917 Balfour Declaration
- 1897 and the first Zionist Congress held in Basil
This list doesn’t include biblical time, Roman time, medieval time. OY, so many possible starting points!
I propose that effective January 1, 2020, all parties stop with their narratives. Leadership in the region needs to focus on building societies where people are not without the necessities of life, including an education that appreciates differences and promotes personal responsibility. These societies should be prepared to enjoy philosophical debate, participate in culture, respond to natural disasters and climate issues, and care for their children, disabled, and elderly. OK, maybe I can wait until January 1, 2021.
The hard thing to determine is whether the leaders are more interested in preserving their power or in what’s best for their people. Abbas and Netanyahu are not going to be leading forever. We need to prepare for their departure. I think both the Palestinians and Israeli have won and neither is going away.
Recognition of this appears to be the way forward. The Arab world needs to recognize that Israel’s majority population of Jews is here to stay. Israel needs to recognize that Palestinians need a state for all to benefit.
I’ve concluded that the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River needs to be shared. I’ve traveled enough through Israel (nine times) to know there’s an extensive amount of space to accommodate the existing population and allow for growth.
I’ve learned that Palestine’s complaint about Israel taking its land stems from a belief that if there were a Palestinian state, so many Palestinians would move there that the land would be needed. There’s so much speculation about what could happen that we’re not paying attention to what ought to happen.
Part of the solution may be creating Sundown Agreements and Situational Analysis that says if one thing occurs, we’ll consider doing this; if another thing occurs, we’ll consider doing that. Let’s stop trying to solve this “forever” and solve it for one generation. We don’t need to decide for the next generation. Let’s empower them to make their own decisions. They might be wiser than us Baby Boomers.
The Trump presidency was a surprise. How can we believe there aren’t more surprises to come? Let’s endorse the Encounter programs that educate us to research, pivot, and be decisive. Check out
My Traveling Companions
Watching first-time visitors to Israel is a wonderful experience. Their reaction to this beautiful, progressive, and accomplished country is something I won’t soon forget.
While this part of my Summer Adventure was less intense, we still did a lot of learning. On our visit to Degania, the first kibbutz in Israel, I learned the following:
- Communism doesn’t work because it promotes behavior that goes against human nature.
- The Holocaust galvanized the world into action to make Israel a nation.
We also discussed the idea that America is the greatest nation that’s ever existed. My friend attributed this to the giving nature of our society. America helps challenged countries.
Wouldn’t it be great (and humbling) if America’s goal was not to be the greatest nation, but one of the greatest nations on the planet? Imagine if you were one of the seven billion people on the planet who thought you lived in one of the greatest nations. How many world problems could be solved if more countries
believed in their status as one of the world’s greatest countries? Being the greatest is short-lived. Traveling to Israel and recognizing that this small piece of land has a history that spans over 4,000 years puts everything in perspective.
Our tour guide was Rabbi Rob Kahn, who arranged all these learning experiences for us. If interested in touring Israel with him, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell him you’re a friend of Steve and Sheri Lear. Please understand that he may be busy.
As my trip to Israel and Palestine ends, my new mission back home begins. Discover what it is and how you can help! Stay tuned for Part 2 of “Steve’s Amazing Summer Adventure,” coming soon!
1Sudden Stress Shifts Human Brain into Survival Mode. Medical Xpress.com.
(accessed August 13, 2019).